Bob Ford: PERFECT CHOICE

Phillies' Halladay wins his 2d Cy Young award.

Posted: November 17, 2010

Philadelphia is not accustomed to perfection from its professional athletes, a hard-learned lesson anchored in the deep sediment of experience.

They try hard, or not, achieve greatness, or not, collect championship hardware, almost always not; but whatever their contributions, they usually walk among us sharing our human frailities and failings.

And then there is Roy Halladay.

He would disagree - and there is a touching, if somewhat baffling, sincerity to his modesty - but Halladay is as close to the perfect pro athlete as we are likely to see. The voting for the 2010 Cy Young Award for the best pitcher in baseball's National League reflected that when it was announced on Tuesday. Halladay, who was 21-10 in his first season with the Phillies, won by a unanimous ballot. Everyone else was playing for second place.

"The whole season was a dream come true for me," Halladay said. "To finish this way is tremendous."

Halladay, 33, is a workhorse who led baseball in complete games, shutouts and innings pitched, and he punctuated that overall mastery with at least one game that was, well, actually perfect.

When Halladay did not allow a Florida Marlins batter to reach base on May 29, he was credited with just the 20th perfect game in the 141-year history of the game. Although it didn't count toward the Cy Young Award because it came after the regular season, Halladay nearly trumped that ace performance with a no-hitter in the first playoff start of his career, and just the second no-hitter in postseason history.

"You start talking about perfect games and no-hitters, and the way he goes about it, that's a pretty impressive package," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "I guess the voters saw that."

The way Halladay approaches his profession was one of the main selling points when the Phillies traded for him last December in a rush of transactions that also saw the team trade away popular starter Cliff Lee. The price was high, a trio of good young prospects, but the payoff was high as well.

Halladay came as promised, a driven workaholic who used every day to make himself a better pitcher, and whose example in the clubhouse wasn't lost in the rest of the pitching staff. When he received word of the Cy Young vote, Halladay was on a golfing vacation in Mexico, but that lolling about isn't going to last long.

"I've already started some exercises to get my arm back in shape, some cardio and some upper body work," Halladay said. "And come the first part of December, I'll start going to the field down in Clearwater. I'll start to be more aggressive at that point."

Pitchers are not required to report for spring training in Clearwater, Fla., until Feb. 15, but that date, like other numerical barriers, means nothing to Halladay. In an era in which starters rarely throw a complete nine innings, he had nine complete games in 2010. At a time in which 200 innings are a full workload, Halladay threw 250.2 innings in the regular season and another 22 innings in the playoffs.

The season was special for Halladay - if not perfect in his eyes - because he did make the postseason for the first time in his career after more than a fallow decade in Toronto, where he won his first Cy Young Award.

"This is one of the greatest places I ever could have played," said Halladay, who, in Philadelphia, found a populace that shared his passion for winning. "The city is very aware of what their teams are doing. People are great to you. They are pulling for the team. You can feel the electricity, not just in the stadium, but in the city, especially at the end of the year. Those are the things you always wish to be part of."

Even perfection doesn't guarantee a perfect ending, however, and the Phillies lost in the league championship round of the playoffs, just two wins short of advancing to a third straight World Series. Despite having a great pitching staff built around Halladay, the Phils lost to the San Francisco Giants because they went into a deep, crippling hitting slump.

After that, there were only the individual awards to consider because the team award had escaped. Halladay said Tuesday that he'd gladly trade his for the larger prize.

"You don't focus on personal stuff. The goal of the team is to win a championship," he said. "We fell short. That part is rough and it lasts for a while. Then you start to get excited about the next season and the chance to do it again. I always thought sometimes the journey is better than the final rewards, and I'm definitely looking forward to that journey again."

Perfection is a lot to ask, so there's no guarantee of that again. Working hard enough to deserve perfection is a lot to ask most players, but Roy Halladay doesn't seem to mind.

"This was the most fun I've ever had playing this game," he said.

It wasn't bad to watch, either, Roy.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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